Clutching their impromptu picnicking feast, Alice turned decisively toward the strand. There it was that the young men were to be found walking this time of day. Yet surely there was nothing more seemingly innocent than two well-bred young girls enjoying the fresh air of the ocean.
The deliciousness of the thought thrilled Alice's admittedly sheltered heart and made her companion gasp with pleasurable alarm when she shared it.
"Mother will be so cross!" Constance gloated, excitement quickening her forward motion so that Alice had to step lively to keep up with her colleague. "Think of it -- cheese and young beaus of questionable family connections."
"They may be complete strangers to us," Alice added, not without the passing glimpse of her parted cousin's face before her. Surely Lizzie would not simply pass judgment on this recklessness, not after all they had been through together. It's not as if we were courting pirates, Alice, reminded herself. I have lived a wild life indeed, she asserted boldly as if her cousin were tsking at her just then. This little adventure is nothing compared to kidnapping.
Constance had no inkling of these tortured thoughts, instead aiming her mild face toward the sands that awaited their dainty steps. Surely adventure and dashing young heroes would be found in abundance there.
"This is so like a novel!" Constance crowed happily.
"Some novels," Alice cautioned, the memory of Miss Fielding's instructive tome still weighing heavily upon her memory. That the novel in question had survived the sea soaking seemed to Alice the height of inconvenience, particularly as Mrs. Forward had looked with a certain rapacious eagerness at its educational pages, wrinkled as they were by the voyage. While the book had yet to dry to a readable state, Alice was certain that the tiresome lessons of Mrs. Teachum's charges were sure to fill her evenings as soon as the pages dried.
"Oh, here's a nice spot," Constance cooed, pointing to a large sandy opening close to the water's lap.
"Perhaps not," Alice said after a moment's consideration. "Do you notice how the sea encroaches upon each successive wave? We would be under water soon, my dear friend." Constance looked rather crestfallen, so Alice cheered her by pointing to another spot nearby. "See there? A couple of flat rocks will allow us to sit comfortably without sand marring our skirts."
"Excellent, Alice. Oh, you are so very clever!"
Alice blushed at this unexpected acclaim. She had never met anyone quite as easy to impress as Constance. While Alice naturally enjoyed this unrestrainedly complimentary approval, she found herself missing the more measured assessment of her cousin Lizzie. Dear cousin, wherever she might be -- no doubt Lizzie would not be embarking on such a wild adventure as this. Alice could not decide whether that realization filled her with more fear or excitement.
The two young women seated themselves daintily upon the rocks, assuring one another that they were far more comfortable than any of the chairs in their pension (true enough, more's the pity), then spread the bounty before them, eager to sample the delights purchased.
"Alice," Constance asked with sudden perturbation, "How shall we open the wine?"
Alice's cheery smile evaporated. Here was a perplexing problem! Constance looked eagerly to Alice for answers, but the latter could only shake her head in confusion. A fine start to our adventure, Alice thought.